RE: Volkswagen Golf R: Review

RE: Volkswagen Golf R: Review

Wednesday 7th May 2014

Volkswagen Golf R: Review

Sub five to 62mph for less than £30K is impressive but do numbers equal fun at the wheel?



If James Brown were still around today and looking to count it off, get up offa that thing or, just possibly, take it to the bridge who would he seek accompaniment from? A horn section comprising big sweaty men like J.B.'s brass legends Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley dressed in matching gold lame suits? Or nerd behind a keyboard?

So to the Golf R, first impressions of which suggest it's more Kraftwerk than the king of funk.

Looks are about the only subtle thing about it
Looks are about the only subtle thing about it
Looking at the numbers and initial reviews there's a sense the new R has a hint of the madman about it, a more explosive nature contained in previous uber Golfs but now unleashed in a response to more intense competition, not least from new premium alternatives like the A45 AMGand BMW M135i. There, two ticks for your PH review bingo card...

I'm bonkers me
Certainly VW would seem to be going for a colour coded lock-down on the sector it has some claim on being the originator of. You can have your hot Golf in traditional GTI trim (red pinstripe trim), with or without a fancy diff, you can have it diesel powered in GTD form (black and smoky - just kidding, seems to be a silver stripe) and you'll even be able to have it electric with a blue stripe. And if you really want to go bonkers there's a new R400 with 400hp and yellow detailing to separate it from the chrome of the R. Very organised. Not that we're doing lazy national stereotypes.

Attempting to simplify that range into just the petrol GTI and R it's a £3,775 price walk from a basic manual three-door GTI (£26,125) and into a comparable R (£29,900). For that you're going from 220hp to 300hp, front-driven to four-wheel drive and a doubling in the number of exhausts. Blurring that boundary is the 230hp, active locking diff equipped GTI Performance option for £27,120. All variants are available in three- or five-door and with manual or DSG gearboxes adding, respectively, £665 and £1,415 to the prices.

Four exhausts - count em! - for hatch bragging rights
Four exhausts - count em! - for hatch bragging rights
To make accurate comparisons between GTI and R models you have to pick your way around the spec sheet very carefully. Bear in mind, for instance, the 81kg variance between a three-door manual Golf GTI and a five-door DSG equipped GTI Performance. The 30kg penalty extra doors bring. And the 125kg difference between that basic GTI and entry-level R. An extra 80hp sounds like a big step up but the R's 280lb ft of torque is only 22lb ft more than the GTI's 258lb ft. The only real number you have to make an objective comparison is 0-62, which is 6.5 for the manual GTI three-door and 5.1 for the equivalent R, dropping to just 4.9 with DSG. That's a significant on-paper improvement for those looking to justify that extra investment. But does it actually translate to the road?

Mode anxiety
First job? Choose a mode. Bells and whistles spec with ACC adaptive dampers means five to choose from for our test car, including 'Race' rather than Sport exclusively for the R. Inevitably after much fiddling round Normal for most things seems the best all-round compromise. Who'd have thought.

Configurability is present in all of the Golf's controls though. Steering weighting, damping (optional), gearchanges (again, optional), throttle map, stability control ... there's endless fiddling and available. Nothing feels especially authentic though, the farty synthesised engine note an aural analogy for prevailing digital enhancement.

300hp Golf is impressive, at least on spec sheet
300hp Golf is impressive, at least on spec sheet
However much weighting you've dialled into the steering the progressive rack feels numb and the way the engine is tuned to deliver all its considerable punch from 1,850rpm onwards feels similarly artificial. If effing quick. Looking at the A45 it's interesting to see a philosophically very different approach, AMG investing its development budget in things like a bespoke linear steering rack and quality passive damping rather than mode settings and electronic gadgetry. It's a significant five-grand step from a comparable five-door DSG R and into an A45 but as a driver's tool seeking to annexe ground formerly occupied by the Japanese rally reps the AMG does a more convincing job. And if you can't stomach that price you can keep it real with a Subaru for less than the R.

300hp, four-wheel drive and a nominal sub-£30K pricetag are not to be sniffed at though. And by golly the Golf covers ground rapidly. The engine tuning means no sense of lag and if you're willing to give it full beans up a curving slip road you'll be astonished at the rate of progress and the ability of the chassis to deploy it in an entirely fuss-free manner. Fifth-gen and promises of ability to send 'almost' 100 per cent of the power rearwards or not, the Haldex four-wheel drive system still feels determinedly nose-led and the R is set-up conservatively to grip and go. But grip and go it most certainly does and, given the understated looks, you've got the ability to catch all manner of vehicles napping.

Tastefully 'sportlich' as you'd have expected
Tastefully 'sportlich' as you'd have expected
Hell yeah
A compact hatch with this kind of firepower and four-driven wheels should be a proper B-road weapon too and if speed is your primary measure of success in this realm the Golf R is again a triumph. Damping is excellent, if ruthlessly dedicated to returning the Golf to a tied-down state as quickly as possible, but, again, there's a sense everything has been turned up just a little too much in an effort to impress. The centre pedal grabs too harshly to smoothly scrub speed or trail brake into corners, you never know quite where you are in that variable steering rack and if you're willing to be early on the power to explore grip levels beyond the initial understeer you need to be pretty confident in it eventually ending up in a place that'll help you achieve your goal. Ultimately the kind of pace the Golf is capable of delivering should be a life affirming 'hell yeah', not a shrugged 'so what'.

Frankly we didn't spend enough time in the R this time around to really dig beyond these initial impressions. We'll be sure to do that and hopefully unlock the magic others have reported on in due course. But right now a GTI Performance makes more inspiring use of a Haldex-derived drivetrain, feels more lively given its 94kg weight saving and costs nearly £3K less like for like. Numbers still matter then, you just need to make sure you're looking at the right ones.


VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R
Engine:
1,994cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual/6-speed dual-clutch auto (DSG), 4-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,800-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.1sec/4.9sec DSG
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,476kg/1,495kg DSG (EU, three-door, +30kg for five-door)
MPG: 39.8mpg/40.9mpg DSG (NEDC combined)
CO2: 165g/km/159g/km DSG
Price: £29,900 (Basic OTR price for three-door manual; £34,785 for three-door as tested comprising DSG £1,415, Discover Navigation Pro £1,765, Adaptive Chassis Control £815, Winter Pack £355 and metallic paint £535)






   
   
   
   
Author
Discussion

J-P

Original Poster:

3,899 posts

147 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Interesting, so you think it's a bit rubbish then?

Johnnytheboy

17,758 posts

127 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
That does seem a bit luke warm.

I also noted that the R isn't hugely torquey for its BHP when I read the Autocar review.

LuS1fer

35,081 posts

186 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
A few years back, an imported Mustang Gt offered 300bhp and RWD for between 26 and £30k so, in terms of progress, this is a car to be applauded. Is £3k such a big gap these days (not that I would spend that on a new car)?

I suppose that, ultimately, I would want to justify the price tag over a Focus ST or Megane 265 but would still be tempted by the GTI. It's down to how much money you have and if you need to have the top model in your chosen range.

Actus Reus

3,451 posts

96 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Curious, Dan, as to why you have included the caveat at the end - did you feel you might be missing something, given the exceptional reviews elsewhere?

I have one on order as a quick day-to-day car, but this review does suggest that I may need something else for weekend fun (and I was hoping this would do, at least for a while).

Johnnytheboy

17,758 posts

127 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
The performance Golfs are very close together on price, aren't they?
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Iklwa

283 posts

70 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Pretty much as expected really, very quick but largely uninvolving. Would like to see a comparison between this and the new 2 series M235i when it comes to driver enjoyment/involvement.

Dan Trent

1,836 posts

109 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Actus Reus said:
Curious, Dan, as to why you have included the caveat at the end - did you feel you might be missing something, given the exceptional reviews elsewhere?

I have one on order as a quick day-to-day car, but this review does suggest that I may need something else for weekend fun (and I was hoping this would do, at least for a while).
It was a shorter loan than usual and though I made sure I had a good punt along some back roads (handily it rained half way through that run!) and the usual commuting I'd have liked longer with it and have been promised as much by VW. Or at least had; the review hadn't gone up at that point!

Cheers,

Dan

Ved

3,818 posts

116 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Sounds just like a Golf.

Terminator X

7,380 posts

145 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
"If James Brown were still around today and looking to count it off, get up offa that thing or, just possibly, take it to the bridge who would he seek accompaniment from?"

LMFAO at that rofl

TX.

Hellbound

2,340 posts

117 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Everything sounds great but nothing has pulled on my heart strings so far this year. That's not to say the Golf R or even GTI aren't lovely all rounders. From the sounds of it they seem to do a great deal very well for an acceptable amount of money. I don't want to end up being one of those middle aged chaps who gets a chub on driving something understated and Q-car-like (but not really). Even worse, I've stopped myself from getting excited by anything with a Skoda badge, or a forest green Subaru Legacy Outback.

Maybe the new Mustang will surprise everyone and get my pulse racing again.

You can sort of see why over in the US and Japan people immediately modify their vehicles, simply because they're so bland. Everyone ends up with the same sporty trim which defeats the purpose of it all.

So, I've settled on a Ford Mustang Cosworth 2.3, with massive turbo. The age of TDI is over.

Actus Reus

3,451 posts

96 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Dan Trent said:
It was a shorter loan than usual and though I made sure I had a good punt along some back roads (handily it rained half way through that run!) and the usual commuting I'd have liked longer with it and have been promised as much by VW. Or at least had; the review hadn't gone up at that point!

Cheers,

Dan
Cheers - haven't really driven one in anger, but my impressions, after a short go, were that it didn't feel so much less lively than the GTi - just quicker. It'll be interesting to see how I feel once I (eventually) get my hands on it. Hope I haven't made a terrible mistake...

tjlazer

791 posts

115 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Couldn't be further away from the Evo conclusion then! I'm one of the many who ordered one of these on the amazing lease deals so the published price is irrelevant to me, I couldn't get anywhere near as interesting a vehicle for the same price so I went and ordered one without even taking it for a spin - £280 a month fully maintained with the compulsory blue paint and adaptive chassis control. I'll see how I get on but on the whole the reviews have been excellent so I'm a bit surprised by this one. Seems like it might need a bit more time to get under the skin. On the face of it the Golf R is a comfortable, reasonably economical and practical performance car - exactly what I wanted! I admit the 4 exhausts are silly and the standard wheels a bit too blingy but other than that it's a good'un. Luckily when I want to do some slides (like this ever happens on the road) or have a proper V8 soundtrack then I'll take the M5...

SprintSpeciale

432 posts

86 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
£34,785 as tested. Volkswagen? More like Reichenswagen.

mdianuk

2,811 posts

112 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Having driven both extensively, I can understand the position this review has taken, and the difference between the GTI PP and R in 'real world' terms is marginal, but then so is the price. These cars are never going to set your world on fire, but are very handy for day to day living; just don't expect it to be a perfect car for weekend blasts and you'll be fine wink

smiffy555

235 posts

85 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Actus Reus said:
Cheers - haven't really driven one in anger, but my impressions, after a short go, were that it didn't feel so much less lively than the GTi - just quicker. It'll be interesting to see how I feel once I (eventually) get my hands on it. Hope I haven't made a terrible mistake...
You haven't!

i picked mine up yesterday and although arguably I'm in the 'first love' stage, I'm impressed with it.

Build quality, style, performance, gearbox (DSG) handling all seem superb.

I'm chuffed.



dele

1,256 posts

135 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Actus Reus said:
I have one on order as a quick day-to-day car, but this review does suggest that I may need something else for weekend fun (and I was hoping this would do, at least for a while).
What drew you to the Golf R?

Curious to hear from owners/potential owners


NSBlake

10 posts

139 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
tjlazer said:
Couldn't be further away from the Evo conclusion then! I'm one of the many who ordered one of these on the amazing lease deals so the published price is irrelevant to me, I couldn't get anywhere near as interesting a vehicle for the same price so I went and ordered one without even taking it for a spin - £280 a month fully maintained with the compulsory blue paint and adaptive chassis control. I'll see how I get on but on the whole the reviews have been excellent so I'm a bit surprised by this one. Seems like it might need a bit more time to get under the skin. On the face of it the Golf R is a comfortable, reasonably economical and practical performance car - exactly what I wanted! I admit the 4 exhausts are silly and the standard wheels a bit too blingy but other than that it's a good'un. Luckily when I want to do some slides (like this ever happens on the road) or have a proper V8 soundtrack then I'll take the M5...
280 a month - what deposit was required, if you don't mind me asking?

Actus Reus

3,451 posts

96 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
@Smiffy - glad to hear it! Still no date for mine - may chase them up later in fact.

dele said:
What drew you to the Golf R?

Curious to hear from owners/potential owners
Lots of things actually conspired on this one - my wife is pregnant, so a new arrival on the way meant my Cayman S and an old snotter for commuting seemed like it would be a waste, as I figured I wouldn't get much time to be in the Porsche, so that meant I was in the market for a quick family car. I looked at all of the Golf sized cars - so GTi, S3, M135i, A-class... And went for the 'R' as I just wasn't mad keen on the BM's styling, nor the A-class' quite claustrophobic interior. So tested the Golf and the Audi and quite liked both - Golf seemed sharper than the S3, and when I saw the lease prices that was a done deal.

Also briefly considered the 3-series, but decided I'd like to keep costs down with a view to putting a weekend car in the garage 'just for me', hopefully next year. I should also add that my initial impressions didn't really agree with Dan's - I thought it was a good car to drive, maybe not as tactile or exciting as my Porsche, but then I never seriously expected it to be.

ETA: The lease on mine will be a little over £340 with a fair few options, just under £2k down - that's 2 years, fully maintained, 10k p.a.

OldBob

290 posts

100 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
Test drove a Leon Cupra 280 and it performed really quite well. Some track tests have shown it to own a Golf R and it's considerably cheaper.

WCZ

6,502 posts

135 months

Wednesday 7th May 2014
quotequote all
worst review i've read for the golf R from anyone!